You Had Me At Hello

There are times I can’t help but fall in love with the startling, fresh, funny or heartbreaking opening lines of a book. While it may sound a little strange, as an obsessive reader and lover of books, I collect artful first sentences. And as any reader knows, a good book is always better when it has been shared with friends. So, I humbly offer my list of favorite first sentences in the hopes that some of you will share your favorites with all of us. Before we begin, I’ll give the disclaimer that while it is always conceivable that a mediocre book could have a fantastic first sentence, and sometimes classics have opening sentences that are quite dull, this list has it all—memorable opening sentences that woo you into the narrative, and the content to follow through.

“Someone must have been spreading lies about Joseph K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning.”

The Trial, Franz Kafka

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”

Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.”

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

“Last night I dreamt we were at Manderly again.”

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier

“John Laroche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth.”

The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean

“I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one.”

My Losing Season, Pat Conroy

“I am a sick man … I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts.”

Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky

“In the town were two mutes, and they were always together.”

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.”

The Debut, Anita Brookner

See Also

“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”

The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macauly

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because his is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

“One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on a stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes.”

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell

And, although it is not, alas, an opening line, this has to be one of my favorite comedic sentences in all of literature …

“The outfit was acceptable by any theological and grammatical standards, however abstruse, and suggested a rich inner life.”

Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

Thank you again for allowing me to share my favorite opening lines with you as a celebration of good literature. I hope you’ll share some of yours with us …

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